San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is expected to testify Tuesday morning in the trial of a former city network engineer accused of refusing to hand over passwords to the city’s main computer network in 2008.
Terry Childs, now 45, has been in custody on $5 million bail since July 2008, when prosecutors accused him of hijacking the city’s new FiberWAN network, which he had been in charge of implementing as a lead engineer for the San Francisco Department of Technology.
The fiber-optic network handles most of the city’s computer traffic between several departments, including payroll, email and law enforcement services.
Prosecutors say Childs refused to give administrative passwords to the system to his supervisors and to police.
Childs later agreed, while in jail, to hand over the passwords to Newsom, but the city could not access the FiberWAN network for 12 days.
If a problem arose, power was shut down, or data was corrupted, city services could have been severely impacted, prosecutor Conrad Del Rosario argued during opening statements in the trial.
According to Del Rosario, the city had to spend more than $1,750,000 trying to regain control of the network and doing vulnerability testing.
Childs is charged with one felony count of computer network tampering with an enhancement alleging the loss of more than $200,000.
Childs’ attorney, Richard Shikman, has insisted his client did not commit a crime and described the charge as “an anti-hacking statute.”
Shikman argued during opening statements that protocols in the computer networking profession call for network administrators to keep rigorous guard over their passwords, even from their bosses.
Shikman described Childs as the “most professionally skilled, most educated, most certified” network engineer the city had. He said Childs was “was acutely sensitive to security interests” and “staked his reputation” on building the FiberWAN network.
While the city “freaked out,” Shikman claimed, his client insisted that the passwords “be given to qualified people.”
Shikman called the case “overzealous prosecution.”
Childs’ trial began Dec. 14. He faces a maximum five-year prison sentence if convicted, but he would receive credit for his time already served in jail plus additional good-conduct credit.